Union Claims Weak Teachers Are Shown the Door

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With its cherished tenure system under scrutiny, the New York City teachers union claimed on Tuesday that hundreds of teachers leave the city schools every year for failing to meet professional standards or as a result of disciplinary actions, even though very few of them are actually fired.

The union shared its data with reporters, a day after a lawsuit was filed by former TV anchor Campbell Brown's new education group claiming the state's tenure laws leave too many unqualified teachers in the city classrooms.

According to the union, a total of 1549 teachers left the school system between 2010-2013 because they didn't meet certain standards during their probationary period. Teachers are eligible for tenure after three years, and those who don't perform satisfactorily or work toward getting their licenses can be terminated.

The union said this means an average of 500 teachers per year are actually dismissed for reasons related to quality before they become eligible for tenure.

A report in the Wall Street Journal cited Department of Education data showing only 40 tenured teachers were terminated in the past two years for misconduct and poor performance, even though charges were brought against a total of 826. More than 300 of those cases had yet to be resolved by arbitrators, because of the lengthy process. In 171 cases teachers paid fines to keep their jobs for offenses that included forging a doctor's note and a parking ticket.

The union didn't dispute those numbers, but it offered its own data for the same two years. Out of 637 disciplinary cases, it said 40 were terminated while another 176 resigned or retired. The rest paid fines or were suspended. The union said its total number of disciplinary cases was smaller than the number the Department of Education provided because it included neither principals and administrators nor teachers who were represented by private attorneys.

Judging by the union's data, this means almost one third of the disciplinary cases known as 3020-a proceedings ended with a teacher's exit while the remaining cases resulted in lesser penalties.

"The DOE has the tools it needs through probationary discontinuance, other non-3020-a procedures or its ability to bring charges to ensure that teachers who should not be in the classroom are in fact not in the classroom," said union spokesman Dick Riley.

But critics of the union's tenure rules disagreed.

 Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an assistant professor at the University of Colorado’s College of Education, said the union's data doesn't mean all of the weak teachers are being flushed out of the city schools.

"If the case the union is trying to make here is we've reached our limit to improve teacher quality by removing ineffective teachers, I don't think that number is high enough," he said, while noting that it's difficult to know what percentage of teachers should be forced out until the current teacher evaluation system takes full effect.

The union's analysis is based on records kept by New York State United Teachers, the umbrella group that represents teachers during arbitration.